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John Maeda

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Jobs Added Art to STEM to Create Steam

Posted: 10/06/11 12:22 PM ET

I'm one of many nerds who started programming with an Apple II. I bought the first Mac in 1984, right before I got on a plane to go to MIT. When I got there, I saw all the upperclassmen had PCs -- the "macho computer" -- and thought I was a sissy with the "pansy computer." But I loved it because it could draw circles so much faster than anything else, and it let me play with the images that were dancing in my head.

Growing up, I found I was good at two things, Art and Math. To hear my parents say it, though, it was only "John is good at Math." They saw a life for me like the one most of my classmates had after graduating in the 1980s, developing software for Oracle or Microsoft (which worked out quite well for most of them, to be sure). My formative years were spent steeped in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math). Were it not for Jobs' influence, I may not have come to believe -- as I do so fervently today - that you need the "A" for Art to turn STEM to STEAM.

Jobs fueled my career as a technologist, artist, designer, and now as a leader of the art and design school by which all others are measured in the world. All of my artistic work -- like the five works that went into MoMA's permanent collection -- was written on a Mac. I even had my own personal ode to Jobs two years ago in London, where I had a show at the Riflemaker Gallery where I made multimedia sculptures out of iPods.

Jobs foresaw that innovation now extends beyond smaller, faster and cheaper technology -- that technology didn't have to be a rational thing. The MP3 player wasn't a new thing when the iPod came out, nor was the iPhone the first smart phone. But they were the ones that made you give a damn. In his own words, the reason why the Macintosh was so successful was that it was created by artists, musicians, poets and zoologists. Jobs saw that artists and designers could make the technology emotional, desirable, human.

In his 2005 Stanford Commencement address, Jobs, then on the mend, adjured the graduates, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." By introducing me to design so many years before, he had already given me this wisdom. On a grander scale, I thank Jobs and Apple for proving that art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century, like science and technology did in the last century. It is this realization that will keep America competitive; the next Apple will be born if America invests in turning "STEM to STEAM" in its research and education.